The German Grand Prix dressage team is back to gold after a five year absence from the highest step on the podium in the team competition at any major intercontinental championship. The Nations competition at the 2013 European Dressage Championships in Herning, Denmark, on Thursday 22 August 2013 was a true thriller taking on Blair Witch proportions as never before have the three podium teams been so close together. The three top spots depended on a total score difference of just 1.111%.
As sixth last rider to go Helen Langehanenberg had to produce the ride of a life time and a personal best score in order to secure gold for Germany or be beaten by perpetual rivals The Netherlands. The golden streak of the British team was broken when Carl Hester failed to produce a faultfree ride and even Charlotte Dujardin's world record of 85.942% and Grand Prix victory couldn't save the biscuit.
On paper the German team should have been able to build up a bigger distance between its competitors, but Kristina Sprehe scored below par but cool cucumber Helen Langehanenberg did what was asked of her. Aboard Christian Becks' 13-year old Westfalian stallion Damon Hill (by Donnerhall x Rubinstein) Helen risked it all and made no mistakes. Her test was absolutely fabulous to watch and made the entire Grand Prix in Herning finger licking good with a second cherry on the cake after Dujardin. Helen was like a cool breeze on a hot summer night. She swept through the ring and refreshed everyone with her fantastic riding. Langehanenberg rode big trot extensions, ground covering and swinging half passes and a very regular and off the ground passage. The piaffes were rhythmical, sometimes a bit forward and a tiny bit on the forehand, but the transitions worked really well. The canter extension was powerful, the zig zag flawless, the tempi changes clear. The right pirouette was slightly big and in general Damon Hill does open his mouth regularly, but the contact is always featherlight. They scored a well earned 84.377 to finish second and hand Germany that long coveted team gold medal.
Kristina Sprehe and her wonderful Hanoverian stallion Desperados (by De Niro x Wolkenstein II) ended up in 9th place with 75.061%, a score below her usual level. Sprehe rode really nice and clear differences between medium and extended trot, something which many riders neglect to do. The rhythm in the first piaffe was not secure, but the extended walk was excellent (score 7.7). Overall Desperados' weak point, the irregular passage, looked better and more even but still not yet good enough for top level dressage. Also in the second piaffe there was a small rhythm lapse. The mistake that gnawed a chunk off her score was the unscripted flying change in the extended canter, even though the zig zag was ground covering and the one tempi changes superb.
The judges panel, which consists of experienced judges Gardner (GBR), Hoevenaars (AUS), Törnblad (DEN), Verbeek-van Rooij (NED), Plewa (GER), Judet (FRA) and Svalling (SWE), unfortunately relapsed to its old patriottic ways with several riders. Plewa was the high score for Langehanenberg, Werth and second highest with Desperados, Dutch judge Francis Verbeek provided the high score for Adelinde Cornelissen and Danielle Heijkoop and the second highest score for Edward Gal. Verbeek was the low score for Langehanenberg and Plewa for Gal. French judge Judet, for instance, was remarkably higher for country mate Marc Boblet. Thankfully as the panel now includes seven judges, their individual influence is reduced considerably and often cancel each other's effect. The most blatant discrepancy between judges happened on Wednesday with Michael Eilberg's ride where there was an unacceptable 10% difference between two judges.
FEI Dressage committee chair Frank Kemperman did not really provide answers nor a firm statement about this judging imbalance at the press conference. "We have good judges, the best here," he said. "It's always a personal opinion. I don't see a reason to change anything at the moment" adding at the end that "there will always be some differences."
Isabell Werth, the "mutti" of her team, rejoiced in Germany winning a gold medal and added another one to her already vast collection. "We had to put in a hard fight," Werth stated. "We dreamt about gold and it was our big goal. Some people were even laughing at us (that they couldn't achieve it). Helen had till now the ride of a lifetime. Today we all got the feeling that th team medal is very special. Today the younger part of the team wrote a piece of history. Nobody believes they could get it. It's a special day today. We are back, Germany is back."
The Dutch Find the Silver Lining
Not 2011 European Champion Adelinde Cornelissen, but 2010 World Champion Edward Gal became Holland's high scorer finishing third with 81.763%. Aboard the 12-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Undercover (by Ferro x Donnerhall) Gal rode a hypercontrolled test that reminded of minute Sillicone valley robotics. Every step was collected and controlled, the horse was tight in the neck and tense in the back with no real natural swing throughout the test despite a soft contact. With this stride control also comes great precision, especially in the phenomenally rhythmical piaffe. The test had many highlights in which Gal was able to show off his mastership as a rider. For instance the lofty half passes, the fanastic transitions between piaffe and passage and the two tempi changes. But there were also quite a few lowpoints which the judges deliberately chose to ignore, spellbound by the Toto Master. None of the trot lengthenings fulfilled even closely the requirements of the movement: there was no overtrack and no lengthening of the frame, but the three extensions still scored him between 7.1 and 7.6 with the latter being the best one. The extended walk was very limited (6.6) and the collected walk became almost lateral (7.4). The passage out of the second piaffe barely moved forwards. Gal finished extending the canter already 3 meters after X and in the one tempi changes there was no ground cover at all, finishing his series of 15 changes at X! The pirouettes are super tiny, but there is hardly any jump despite its well counted number of strides, it's more a earthbound hopping. Still two judges scored the left one a 10. The final centerline was very strongly ridden with fantastic tempo control. Gal scored a whopping 81.763% with Svalling's 84.787 as high score and Plewa's more accurate 79.468 as low score.
Adelinde Cornelissen produced a very interesting test as well, which landed her fourth place and a 80.851% score. The 16-year old chestnut gelding did his first outdoor show of the season and appeared a bit ring rusty, despite his experience. Cornelissen did not risk it all in the Grand Prix, the trot extensions were ridden safely in the half passes the hind legs could have been crossed more sharply and the halt for the rein back wasn't square. The major improvement to be seen was that Adelinde finally rode the gelding in a more open frame. While the contact can still be more soft, the horse was more open in the throat latch which created a more appealing silhouette. In the second trot extension the onset was irregular and the passage was not even from behind. The first piaffe was really nice. The extended walk is no longer as generous in overtrack and pure as before, having lost some quality in the gait. The second piaffe and passage were much more regular with good bounce, though the horse did get croup high. Parzival is an ace in the canterwork with fantastic tempi changes. Usually the pirouettes are his forté but he did two double beats in the left one. The right one was much better. The final centerline was really nice in expression, but the horse got crooked in the body to the right. While Cornelissen and Parzival are still serious medal contenders the last bit of fine-tuning was not yet there in the Grand Prix.
"A few months ago I didn't even expect to be here," Cornelissen confessed. "I'm happy to ride here and he did really well." Cornelissen has been monitoring her horse's heart rate since his operation for cardiac arrhythmia and decided to leave the prize giving when she saw Parzival's heart peak suddenly from 60 to 100. "It was not such a good idea to be there," she explained.
"We tried to go for gold but with two riders above 80% we are very happy with silver," Dutch team trainer Wim Ernes concluded.
Brits Drop to Bronze
The highlight ride of the day came from Olympic champions Charlotte Dujardin and her 11-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Valegro (by Negro x Gershwin). Dujardin hasn't lost her winning touch despite riding only two shows with her star horse this season. The Brit produced an amazing test on a very fit and willing Valegro. Just like Helen Langehanenberg, they showed what dressage is all about: effortlessness, in harmony with natural swing and elasticity in the frame.
The duo rode very powerful trot extensions and half passes with the left one having exemplary bending in the body and crossing of the legs. The second extended trot ended a bit early on the diagonal and the first piaffe was too early before the marker, but the rhythm and regularity were spot on. In the extended walk the nose was nicely but there could be even more ground cover. The collected walk was very good. The second passage was nice and bouncy and the piaffe just looked so smooth but in the transition there was a double beat. The canter work was very secure. The two tempi changes were big but could have been slightly straighter in the body, the extended canter was very nice, the zig zag got a bit wobbly at the end. The one tempi changes were extraordinary (8.9). There was much jump in the pirouette left and the one to the right was just lovely. The final extended trot was world class and the last centerline was fantastic. They scored a well earned 85.942%, which is a new World Record and earned them the victory in the test.
"I had a fantastic ride," Dujardin commented. "I wanted to enjoy it. It's great to come through the tunnel and into the arena. He feels better and stronger this year." Charlotte disclosed that she and her trainer Carl had a heart-to-heart conversation after Hicksyead. "Carl murdered me," she admitted. "He sharpened me up to get my act together. I had Carl in my head in every movement. He told me not to forget a single thing he had told me."
Carl Hester andthe 12-year old Dutch bred stallion Uthopia (by Metall x Inspekteur) were giving their all but made a few mistakes along the way. Hester really stepped on the gas pedal and the black stallion was super elegant and lightfooted in trot. He showed fantastic extensions, flowing half passes but the first piaffe happened a bit early before the marker. Still the piaffe itself was nicely on the spot. The extended walk was limited in overtrack but the collected stayed clear in the rhythm. The passage was regular and bouncy but in the second piaffe, the horse lost impulsion and did a mini-rear. Still Hester presented his ride in a very light and attractive contact with the mouth. The zig zag was good but there was a mistake in the two tempi changes, the ones were super. The final extended trot was fantastic. While the passage on the final centerline was secure, the piaffe still looked unsafe. Hester finished on 75.334% to rank seventh.
Hester was very proud of Valegro's performance today and said that the horse actually went better here than he has ever seen him before go at home. "He should be named Encyclopaedia Britannica," the rider joked. "He knows and can do everything." Hester admitted that it was quite a shock that team anchor Laura Tomlinson and Mistral had to withdrawn 48 hours before the Brits' departure to Herning. "It wasn't a happy party, but we still won a medal with two new members. It's good for the future of British Dressage."
Michael Eilberg provided Great Britain's third team result but his mark was plagued by a major judges' discrepancy of 10%. Britain's fourth rider Gareth Hughes couldn't keep the lid on the cooker of his hot, tense and sensitive mare Nadonna. "I have mixed emotions," Hughes stated. "I had a very good lead up to this show and I had the worst ride in my Grand Prix career here. It was also the best day of my career because I have a medal. It's ying yang."
Text and Photos © Astrid Appels - No Reproduction Allowed/p>
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2013 European Dressage Championships